Are Wood Pallets Safe for Reuse Projects? It Depends

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On the surface, the ubiquitous pallet seems ideal for reuse: It’s wood, it’s recycled and it’s free. How can you go wrong? We’ve even featured a roundup of cool pallet crafts here on Earth911.

But it turns out that pallet wood can often be contaminated with toxic chemicals, harmful bacteria and other icky bad stuff you certainly don’t want in your home or around your family.

“You have to consider where [the pallet] came from, what’s been shipped on it and what you’re going to use it for,” explains Candice Miller, a horticulture educator and expert from the University of Illinois Extension.

“I think a lot of people see these cool ideas on the internet and on Pinterest, and they go for it. They really don’t think about what it’s been treated with, where it’s been or if it’s really safe to use.”

We know, it’s a bit of a downer to suggest that all pallet reuse is a bad idea. So, before reusing a pallet at home, read on for some things to consider to protect your health.

How it was treated

To prevent the spread of invasive pests and pathogens, the USDA requires manufacturers to treat pallets and other wooden packing material before shipping internationally.

Pallets are either heat-treated (heated to a high temperature in kilns to seal the wood) or treated with methyl bromide – a toxic pesticide that has been linked to human health problems and ozone layer depletion.

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When sourcing used pallets, look for wood bearing the IPPC seal and an “HT” stamp, designating it was heat-treated rather than sealed with chemical pesticides. Photo: Flickr/Ole Husby

The use of methyl bromide has been significantly restricted in recent years due to these health concerns, but Miller points out that it’s difficult to tell how old a pallet is or how long it has been in use.

To be sure how a pallet was treated, look for the IPPC stamp on the side of the wood. Pallets marked with an “HT” were heated-treated and did not come into contact with chemicals during the treating process. Avoid unmarked pallets or those stamped with an “MB” for methyl bromide.

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Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.
Mary Mazzoni

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